Mental Health:

When Depression Breaches Your Break Wall and Floods Your Fields.

The holidays are both a happy and sad time for me. As a child, our holidays were usually riddles with tensions from my two warring parents – for years they couldn’t be in the same room with each other without fighting and the holidays brought out the ugly. Years later, my mother, my best friend suffered a stroke and died over the holidays.  So my heart goes out to people struggling with depression at this time of year, so I did a little digging on the subject. 

Everyone has heard of the two main fear responses: fight or flight, but did you know that there are significant differences in the way people of color and white people exhibit depression symptoms? Most people know the “common signs.”  Let’s be honest,  in America, most group references like “common” refer to the most studied people, whites. However, on some depression questionnaires the questions which discuss the types of symptoms people of color experience when depressed are not mentioned at all! 

Think abut that for a minute. 

Imagine the number of people of color suffering from depression who are unable to get the help they need simply because their symptoms don’t match those of white people. 

Over a 15 year span, depression rates in African American pre-teens (10-14) rose 233% in comparison to a rise of 120% of white teens. 8.3% of black teens attempt suicide as opposed to 6.2% of white teens. Why the disparity?

There could be a number of reasons.

Medical care disparity, as discussed in Harriet Washington’s book, Medical Apartheid, plays a huge role in the misdiagnosis or mistreatment of people of color because many health care professionals do not value or appreciate pain in non-whites. Often, health care professionals believe people of color are exaggerating their symptoms. Because people of color are often treated differently in the doctor’s office than their white counterparts, their medical and mental health needs go untreated or undertreated.

Well-documented income disparity in communities of color stemming from systemic forms of racism also impact treatment. Obviously, lower income means less access and often times, substandard access.

Unfortunately, these are not the only reasons. We can look at the mental health struggles of refugees from war zones to draw comparisons. People living in or who are refugees from war zones are much more sensitive to social stressors like constant negative feedback. I read about families in areas of the world the US frequently sends drones in to attack and many of these civilians suffer from depression and traumatic stress disorders because they never know when a bomb will destroy them or those around them. They are even unable to gather in celebration with larger groups for fear of being thought a terrorist target and then bombed. There have been countless civilian homes, family gatherings, and even weddings that have been destroyed this way; you can read about them here.

Can you image never knowing when something may go terribly wrong for you? Then not even being able to get the support you need from friends and family? 

I worked in the inner city as a teacher and students would not walk in groups of more than three and most often paired off. The reason for this, they explained, was that they were constantly harassed by police when they were in groups, and any interaction with police could turn deadly. 

In my own, predominantly white community it isn’t uncommon to see groups of kids of 5,7 and sometimes larger roaming around, laughing freely like any carefree teen should be able to. Here the police offices come to school , hand out trick or treat bags, give them warnings if they get into mischief. In communities of color, that is not the case. 

Consider the number of viral videos being posted regarding white people calling the police on black people for doing nothing other than living. Consider also that the interactions people of color have with police are very different than those of white people. For anyone getting upset at reading that last line, ask yourself, “When was the last time you heard of black officers shooting unarmed white kids every week?” How often have you heard about black people calling the police on a white person wearing their socks in the pool, barbequing, attempting to buy jewelry? It’s not because it doesn’t make the news – its’ because it doesn’t happen. That constant negative feedback is psychologically destructive on every level.

There were never any “white codes”, but there certainly were black codes. These codes, though no longer written are, still enforced in different ways today. Long-term depressive symptoms actually increase when African Americans live in predominantly white communities because of the same type of constant negative feedback similar to immigrants or war zone refugees experience. You can read the study here.

Hate crimes have skyrocketed since 2016 in America. When those in the highest levels of power are bullies, then it embolden people who already had these feelings to come out and show their colors. It’s not trickle-down economics, it’s trickle-down tyranny. 

The amount of social stress this causes compounded with a lack of appropriate screening, diagnosis, help, or lack of resources has made mental health in the black community a huge issue we need to address. 

During this holiday season, when many people feel isolated and depressed, instead of rushing off to check off the next box on our “To Do” list, let’s take a moment to reach out in understanding to somone who may be struggling.

Symptoms of depression people of color may experience in addition to the list usually distributed: 

Interpersonal struggles

 Physical discomfort

Other common depression symptoms:

Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood

Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism

Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness

Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”

Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions

Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping

Appetite and/or weight changes

Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts


To Be Female, Anxious, and Black

Depression And African Americans

Depression An Young Black Men

Depression in African American Men Study

Read about how social stress causes depression.

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